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To army life from bugle boy to life and death combat. To his first crossing the English Channel. To wondering if he would ever return. To making a Polish padre baptise a child at gun-point. To being stood in front of a firing squad twice, hearing the click of the rifle bolts, and the orders given to fire. To blowing up a German goods train. To a lovely Polish girl who twice saved his life. To a night spent in a Parisienne brothel. To retirement and a quite life in Plymouth. Written by John Southern of Looe.
"A life at War" a true storyWalter James Mayes was born on Friday the 1st.day of October, 1920, in the peaceful village of Cheveley, set amid a far reaching but level landscape in the county of Suffolk. Three miles or so to the NW can be seen Newmarket, just edging the border with Cambridgeshire. The village lies within the diocese of Ely, the tower of this vast and well defined cathedral, together with its famous lantern light, is often clearly visible thro’ the shimmering warm haze on a summer’s eve; five miles away.
James was the son of William and Alice Mayes née Wilkins, who had married in 1917 after he had been invalided out of the army in France during the Great War of 1914 - 1918, where he had fought in the trenches as a sargeant in the Royal Scottish Regiment. As soon as he was able to get about he had to find the means to earn his own living as best he could. He had been working in service in a country house before the war claimed his service, and when he married his occupation was shown as a butler, while Alice was shown as being cook, both in service at the same house.
The help offered by the government (and successive governments) to wounded or incapacited servicemen and the many thousands of widows after the war was iniquitous. The men marched away to the front as heroes, but returned as forgotten men. They marched away in answer to a call from Kitchener, but Kitchener was not there when the few returned. They had to scrape together what living they could to survive; their "Great Offensive" was to survive after the war.
It was the poets of that time who themselves had fought in the trenches who proclamed the true gospel of life at the front - and left us their priceless legacy. Poets like Seigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Julian Grenfell DSO., Isaac Rosenberg, Capt.Charles H.Sorley, Sergt.John W. Streets, Robert Graves, Pte.H. Smalley Sarsen, the anon.H.D’A.B., etc. Major Sydney Oswald Sorley, killed on the Western Front in 1915, who had written "There blind eyes see not your tears flow. Nor honour. It is easy to be dead." While Owen’s parable of Abraham "Offer the Ram of Pride instead, but the old man would not so, but slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one" was even more cutting.
William and Alice left Cheveley when James was still a toddler, and about the year 1925 took work in a large country house at West Horsley, a village midway on the main road between Guildford and Leatherhead. They lived in a tied cottage called "Long Reach" which stood some hundred yards back from the roadway. The cottage had no electricity or water being but a place of quiet comfort in which to raise their two sons. Opposite the house and across the road was a field which produced an abundance of cultivated strawberries, so much so that during the straw- berry season the boys would earn themselves money picking the fruit for market. After the season the field would lie fallow and the boys had permision to pick any friut they could glean for themselves. Alice would tell the boys to pick their own fruit to eat after they had had their main meal for the day. After school was time to take the dog for a walk down though the woods and along the lanes. On the S of the village can be found fine walking over the Downs. The dog lived outdoors in a large kennel which gave him the freedom of the garden where he could lie in the summers’ sun all day long. Neither John or James could recall the name of the house where their parents worked, (nor that of the dog) ! Was it West Horsley Place, the home of Lord and Lady Crew ? Today the village has over forty listed buildings.
In the year 1926 William was promoted to gardener and chauffeur, while Alice ceased being the kitchen maid and was made housekeeper. One of his jobs was to tend the geese, a flock of some twelve birds. One day he took James to the field where the geese lived, a place where a fairly substaintual pond could be found behind a bordering reed bed through which a stream ran.
One of the ganders chased the young James who ran from it as fast as his legs could carry him, but he did find sanctuary behind his father who offered words of firm guidance to the gander : after all he was protecting his own. A gander can be rather alarming if one got too near his nest where the goose sat incubating her eggs.
Later William took over as butler, his title meant he could progress no further, but the job offered him security into old age. But neither William nor Alice could settle as they wished by living in a tied cottage, so by saving and borrowing they amassed £500 and bought their own home, a two bedroomed bungalow called "Pen Tor," having a substantial garden with outhouses in the nearby village of West Horsley. The bungalow stood on the higher side of the small railway station.
For recreation they attended whist drives, and when of sufficient age the boys would join in with the fun and soon became challenging players themselves. One evening at whist William won an armchair, but he had to carry it home himself, on his head, over a length of some two miles of road. One can imagine him stopping and taking a rest alongside that quiet roadway while he lazed for several minutes in the chair. Later he won a half a ton of coal, but it was delivered to his home. At least he never had to carry it back with him !
Those years after the war the village still laboured under the arms of its womenfolk due to the loss of many of their young and able men during the horrors of WW1. The list of their names can be seen on a roll of honour inside the parish church, dedicated to St.Mary. The village lies within the diocese of Guildford.
Friday’s child, as witnessed in the Nursery Rhyme, is said to be "loving and giving." But whether or not James’s mother would have agreed to this prediction is now not known, because her little James had to share the gifts of her love with his only brother John : sisters they had none. James always wished he had had one, being brought up with a sister during those days when children at school age were segregated put a lad more in balance with his nature. Although on this point the two boys went to the small Church of England school which had mixed classes.
His brother John was born on the 5th.day of March 1919 ; which made him a year and a bit the older. James agreed he could have no favourites - he equally loved his family !
When James was nine years of age he became a butchers boy, whose job it was to deliver meat to the neighbouring customers by means of a heavy commercial bicycle with a wicker basket afixed to the front. When he received his wages every Saturday after he finished his deliveries the butcher would give him a bonus, a pound of sausages ! John worked for the post office delivering telegrams at first until he took over as the local postman.
Their father was a verger in the parish church of St.Mary, and so the two boys became choir boys, and even joined the young bell ringing team. Later James blew the organ by pumping a long wooden lever by hand. The two boys also delivered newspapers every day before school.
In 1938 John Mayes joined the army, and undertook his initial training with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich Barracks before he was posted to Portsmouth Barracks. His service number was 876518. From there he was posted to Egypt with the Eight Army where they were held until war was finally declared, knowing that war was inevitable. Gunner / Bombadier Mayes was given the war substantiated rank of sargeant, but had no wish to recall for me any events during those years he endured in the Middle East during the war.
In 1946 he was demobbed and so he married and moved to Truro, because by then his parents were living in the parish of St.Day, a move which fulfilled a desire of his father to move to Cornwall. John and his wife Mable took possession of the "Star Inn" (now known as the "Wig and Pen" in Frances St., Truro) where he remained until he retired.
James joined the army at the age of sixteen years. He enlisted at Woolwich Arsenal on the 24th. September 1936, as a bugle boy. His training involved blowing the trumpet as well as the bugle (a treble brass instrument - if it can be so called - which can only produce the natural harmonices in its primitive form). The trumpet being an orchestral instrument is by far the more difficult to play. More bugle boys has been threatened with a stray bullet than any other service- man. To be rudely awakened at "reveille" by a bugle, seemingly only inches from one’s sensory organ is an experience not gladly received by anyone, particularly if the recipient is tone deaf, or suffering from a "hang-over." Sadly neither James or his pal made it as buglers so the Commanding Officer decided that boy buglers Gouch and Mayes were to become boy gunners.
The following September Gunner Mayes, Service Number 853499, was posted to the 23rd.Field Regiment, Royal Artillery stationed at Topsham by Exeter, to serve as their first boy gunner. The regiment was a horse drawn 25-pounder artillery division which had come back after serving in India on the 18th. April 1936. He had to be up by 6am. for rough exercise for the horses; of which they stabled 140 of the heavier types. Sitting bare-backed on a horse with another each side of him on a short bridle he would take them along the roadways for exercise. The roads were quiet in those days, hardly anyone had vehicles. On returning to barracks the horses would be rubbed down, watered and fed. While the exercise was being carried out the other men would muck out, clean the stables, and polish harness. After this we were all allowed to have our breakfast, the welfare of the horses always came before that of the men. This procedure was carried out daily, the stable men were billeted over the stables. The 25-pounder guns were drawn by 6 horses with a rider astride one of each pair. Behind the horses was the ‘limber’ on which sat two soldiers who would nimbly jump off and walk to lessen the weight when a hill had to be climbed, and subversely when going downhill, so as to apply the brake. Behind the ‘limber’ was the gun on its carriage. The horses had no names, but in the strict tradition of the British army each had a number, somewhere stencilled on it.
As well as his aforementioned training he was taught to ride horses, a skill he developed
into far more rapidly than he did by blowing upon a bugle and trumpet ! His training also included the basic drill as all soldiers had to endure for hour upon hour on a large parade ground usually exposed and open to every wind !
Gunner Mayes was taught how to become a gun layer (the man who applies the angle of elevation and degree of traverse). He also became a signaler, using Morse code, Addis lamps, and semaphore.
In 1938 the regiment became mechanised, having got rid of all the horses : so he became redundant, both as a horseman and as a signaler; due to the regiment further adopting radio for communication. Instead he was given a motor cycle to ride and became a dispatch rider, known as a Don-R, riding Norton or B.S.A. (Birmingham Small Arms), motor cycles.
After the war James remained in the army and was promoted to bombadier, then to sargeant, from the 28th.September 1939 to 12th.June 1940. He was with the British Expedinary Force, and undercover partisan to 30th.March 1945. From then to 10th.April 1954 with the Home Service. From the 11th.April 1954 to 16th.June 1955 Middle East Land Force with two months back with Home Service again. 25th.August 1955 to 16th.April 1961 he served with the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), followed by a further month back in Home Service. Discharged as Warrant Officer, Class 2. Technical Regimental Quatermaster Sargeant.
He received the following Medals :-
Long Service Good Conduct Medal.
1939 to 1945 Star.
War Medal 1939 to 1945.
Mentioned in Despatches Authority L.A. 209 / 45.
Armia Krajowa "Akcji Burza" Commemorative Badge of Operation . . . Operation ‘Tempest.’
ODZNAKE Weterana Walk o Niepodleglosc (Vertera Badge of Struggle for Independance). Instituted on June 6th. 1994 by the Council of Combatants and Prosecuted Individuals.
by J.Southern Wallace
This remarkable story is retold to ensure it will be preserved for prosterity. It was written (but not dated) by the patient hand of Heather Mayes née Sugden, Jim’s wife, from diction. The ‘precis’ (seven hand written A4 single sided sheets) was written down being Jim’s first attempt to write his story. Then, when in his 87th.year, he realised he had left out too much, in fact after he had read it, he found it promped his memory enough for him to re-write his story. The result from the second attempt was twenty-seven A4 sheets: the final words being "more to follow next week."
This "more to follow next week" comprised of a further five A4 sheets, terminating with "This is a true story" and signed "W. J. Mayes. "
So the first attempt I have edited and used it as a precis. The second attempt I have edited and enlarged by detailing some of the events referred to, also by prompting Jim’s memory myself on many of it’s issues.
His story covers his early days brought up on the Isle of Shephay. To army life from bugle boy to life and death combat. To his first crossing the English Channel. To wondering if he would ever return. To making a Polish padre baptise a child at gun-point. To being stood in front of a firing squad twice, hearing the click of the rifle bolts, and the orders given to fire. To blowing up a German goods train. To a lovely Polish girl who twice saved his life. To a night spent in a Parisienne brothel. Such picaresque events would be more than enough to colour any man’s adventurous life.
I only met James for the first time a year or more ago, when he was aged 86 or 87 years. One had to look at him hard in order to try to see him as he had been some sixty or more years before. But Jim still retained that inbred character of one who had endured much, but a character of such when serving in the army ended up as a Warrant Officer (WO1 or WO11). Such men were big, strong, resolute, and as unmovable as the proverbial rock: but men who ran the army and made it as it was, a fighting force throughout two World Wars; resolute, and as unmovable as the proverbial rock ! James achieved the latter rank, and one has only to look at his photograph at the end of this essay to notice how well the aforementioned description of a typical warrant officer endures.
One must simply reiterate on some of the many terrifying occasions James found himself in. His hiding place in an empty grave covered by a large concrete slab which he was unable to remove himself in order to escape should his compatriots be killed or captured. His hiding under a bed from those who sought him ; knowing he would be shot if found. Many other incidents will be found when reading his story which can only strengthen the character of such a man of Suffolk
The Story of Gunner W.J.Mayes during World War Two.
Army Service No.853799 Royal Artillery 23rd.Field Regiment.
(Gunner & dispatch rider)
I was in bed in a four storied "safe" house early one morning when a pre-arranged alarm bell rang warning me that the Germans were raiding the house.
I quickly jumped out of bed and into my trousers and escaped, without my shoes, through a skylight : scrambling over several roof tops (including a cinema) to gradually lower myself by climbing down a drainpipe into a small yard at the rear of a café. During my haste I badly cut my left wrist and found my shirt smeared over with blood.
So I looked around and decided to try to rouse a local household for help, and knocked on a door. The door opened and I explained as best as I could in French that the German’s were searching for me, and would they please help me ? Quickly pulling me inside the house they cleaned me up and gave me a pair of shoes and a jacket, which I put on and casually walked away.
It was then that I realised I had left behind my false identity card with my photograph !
Towards the end of July 1941 I was captured while travelling on a train from Paris to Bordeaux. I was taken to Fresnes Prison after being confined in a dungeon for ten long days.
The cell measured 8-ft by 5-ft, and the only furnishings it contained was a two-inch wide plank of wood to lie on and a wooden block for a pillow - with no bedding. I was not allowed to sit or lie on the ‘bed’ for sixteen to eighteen hours daily, but to remain standing. This I had to endure for three months !
I was then transferred to Brussels Prison where my cell had the similar characteristics of the cell I occupied in Fresnes Prison. Many times I was taken to the Gestapo HQ in Brussels where I was asked the same questions time and time again. To keep me alert they hit me across my ankles, legs and body with a cosh, and on the head with a rifle. I was also placed against a wall and blindfolded while they set up a mock firing squad, but only to the point of the word "fire." Then I would be taken back to my cell. I was still not allowed to sit or lie on my plank for sixteen to eighteen hours each day, and I also had a Belgiun prisoner put into the cell with me during early evenings and he would be kept handcuffed and shot early next morning. This proceedure continued for three months, while I suffered very much with my legs.
In January 1942 I was transferred back to France to a prison in Lille, again confined in a similar cell with no sitting or lying down for two thirds of each day. But I received no beatings.
Again I remainded at Lille for three months.
My next move was back to Belgium and placed in a prison camp where its inmates were of many nationalities, including Russians. Everyone was like a skeleton, the diet being a slice of bread, a cup of acorn coffee, and one cup of mangel soup daily.
In May 1942 I was taken to a British P.O.W camp - Stalag V111 B. Here, life was good.
We enjoyed better food, and occasionally we received Red Cross food parcels. But mainly I was occupied in planning to escape, and escape I did, but only to get caught after ten days of limping about as best as I could with no food, and scanty shelter. I was caught by a German policeman who kicked me all the way to the police station. But it was a relief to get a bed and food again.
But then I realized I was not physically able enough to manage and endure an escape that year.
My legs were still too bad. This gave me time to save items of food from my Red Cross parcels to aid me in my next escape.
I escaped the following year during the month of April 1943 with a fellow prisoner, a gunner called Peter Heiden. We jumped onto a goods train and made our way into Poland where we joined up with a party of Jews hiding in a forest. These good people were too poorly armed to offer much resistance, and were in hiding not only from from the Germans but also from the Poles who had no love for them. Their leader explained to us we would not be safe staying with them and he would arrange for us to be passed on to the Polish Home Army.
We travelled in the brake van of a goods train to Czestochova. Here we contacted the Polish resistance movement who frankly told us we could stay for the duration in a safe house, or join the partisans. We learned that there was an escape route but it was only open to pilots who were in very short supply, the allies were building fighter and bomber planes faster than it was possible to train pilots. So we decided to become pilots after our next move which took us to Poitrkow. From then on we were known as pilots awaiting a turn through an escape route. (Because of this Peter Heiden’s memorial in Sulejow Cemetery reads "gunner pilot Peter Haiden"
having misplelt his name. see p.31). But Peter was actually a gunner in an Anti Aircraft Regt. in the Royal Artillery.
However, we chose to join them and fight with them. We were informed however, that should we be captured we would be shot.
From that time until the end of the war I mostly spent sleeping on the ground, wet or fine weather, summer or winter, sometimes in tempertures 30 degrees below zero. All this hardship had had an adverse effect on my health, especially my legs. After every act of sabotage we were always rapidly on the move travelling up to twenty miles distance in one night. Because of my handicapped legs our commander allowed me to ride on a horse drawn cart.
Then in December [22nd. 1943] while taking part in a well planned battle code-named "Storm," [Operation "Tempest"], Peter Heiden was mortally wounded. I, with the help of two partisans, buried him in the forest. From then on I was the only Englishman in the area.
"The plan was to co-operate with the advancing Red Army on a tactical level, while Polish civil authorites came out from underground and took power in allied-controlled Polish territory. This
plan was approved by the Delegate of the Polish government in excile and by the Polish under
ground parliament (Krajpowa Reprezentacja Polityczno).
On January 2, 1944, Red Army forces of the 2nd Belarusian Front crossed the prewar Polish
border. At the same time [the] massacres of Poles in Volhynia reached their peak and the 27th
Polish Home Army Infantry Divion was formed. This began Operation Storm. The Division
managed to contact the commanders of the advancing Red Army and began successful joint
operations against the Wehmacht. Together they retook Kowel (April 6) and Wlodzimierz. The
Division was, however, soon forced to retreat west, and in the Polesie area was attacked by both
German and Soviet forces. Polish soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets were given the choice of
joining the Red Army or being sent to Soviet forced-labor camps. The remnants of the Division
crossed the Bug River, where they were attacked by Soviet partisan units. After liberating the
towns of Lubartow and Kock, the Division (reduced to some 3,200 men) was surrounded by the
Red Army and taken prisoner."
The following year I was able to take command of some operations. In one I was dressed in the uniform of a captain in the German Military Police, together with two other partisans. I made a road block stopping all traffic while looking for Germans. After capturing two cars and a lorry I withdrew taking with me all the outer clothing and footware from the German personnal.
I also took the lorry and cars to Alexandria, a nearby village. Arriving there we discovered all the men were missing. Removing my cap I asked a girl where are the men ? She looked at me and said "Oh! its you "Ozim." (my code name), "they are in hiding." The men were recalled and we shared out the contents of the lorry (which was farm impliments and a cheese), also the clothing taken from the Germans : and I had the lorry and the two cars taken miles away from the village. I hid under an earth closet for two days because the village was swarming with Germans searching for us.
After that operation I soon learned that an assasination squad was searching for me, by then I was well known in the area by the Polish people, and some had saved my life on many occasions. In September one of our partisans came to me in a distressed state claiming the local padre would not christen his baby because he was a partisan. I told him to collect together his family into a couple of waggons and then pick me up at an arranged point. We galloped the three miles to the church where I told the padre that if he did not baptise the child and give the child the blessing of God Almighty I would shoot him, and so the ceremony was performed at gun point.
When the service was over I signed the register in English while the family went off to celebrate the happy occasion. Afterwards we continued doing acts of sabotage and then hiding up for a few days. One of my hiding places was in a grave that had been cleared of its contents, enlarged and reinforced to form a hiding place. A concrete slab could be pushed aside and I would climb down inside using a ladder. The slab would be put back in place and the ground made to look good and undisturbed. I would have to wait to be released from that damp, dark and cold place in which the longest length of time I spent there was for two days and three nights. Yet I knew that if my compatriots were caught or killed I would be unable to escape - and the grave would be my own !
Another hiding place I frequently used was in a bed with a false bottom, but there had to be someone in the bed pretending to be ill. The safest place was in the forest. Then in January 1945 the Russiams arrived - but that will be another story.
March 1945 I arrived back in England where I was debriefed and recommended for a medal. I was also memtioned in despatches. I was told not to talk to anyone, or to write down or otherwise record anything regarding my experiences in Poland.
In May of 1994, forty nine years later, I returned to Piotrkow in Poland, the area where Peter Heiden was buried all those years before. I appealed on Polish Radio for anyone who could remember me to contact me at the Radio Station. The first person to make contact was the brother of the partisan who’s baby had been christened at gun-point. He told me that the father of the baby had since died but that he had frequently retold the story many times of how the Englishman "Ozim" who made the christening (at gun point) possible.
Then an elderly woman came forward and identified herself as being the young woman in Alexandria who recognised me when I was dressed as a captain of the German Army Police. I then asked about Peter’s grave, and so she took me to a cemetery near to Piotrkow and showed me a line of partisan’s graves, the last of which was a young Polish girl courier who had been shot by the Gastapo. [Many of these couriers travelled about the city by way of the under-ground sewers]. Many years later this girls parents were shot by the Russians, and their parents were buried in another part of the cemetery. Friends of the partisans secretly removed the girls remains and buried her with her parents, they then removed Peter Hieden’s remains from his grave in the forest and buried him in the vacant girls grave - but with no headstone.
On my return to England I reported my findings to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and recorded the position of Peter Hieden’s grave. They said they would not remove him but promised to put a plaque on his grave. I frequently remember Peter Heiden and our time together in the Royal Artillery, as POW’s, then fighting together with the Polish Home Army. Now suffering from the infirmities of old age I can no longer recall anything regarding his life, or where he came from; even though I visisted his father
All of this re-living my wartime experiences had an adverse affect on my health, and I was getting frequent attacks of some nerveous disorder in which I found I was living a nightmare.
In 1995 the then Polish Ambassador attached to the United Kingdom awarded me with two medals for fighting with the Polish partisans and for taking an active part in Operation "Tempest."
Operation ‘Tempest’ - a general outline by Jan Clechanowski
"In 1943 the war entered a new phase. The Allies went over to the offensive in Russia,
Italy and the Far East. It was no longer a question of whether the war would be won by
the Allies, but when it would be won. As the end approached the situation of the Polish government was difficult. Nevertheless General Sikorski the Polish prime minister still believed that, with the help of Churchill and Roosevelt, he would be able to come to
terms with Stalin. He continued to believe that the Western Allies would sooner or later bring their influence to bear on the side of Poland."
"On 4 July 1943, howevwe, Wladyslaw Sikorski died when the aircraft carrying him
crashed at the moment of take-off at Gibralter. The normal testimonies of respect for
Sikorski followed, but he left behind him a difficult situation, which was not made any easier by the appointment of his successor. On 14 July a new government was formed under Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, the leader of the Peasant Party. On the other hand Gen-
eral Kazimierz Sosnkowski was appointed Commander-in-Chief. In this way the two
functions exercised by Sikorski were separated. Mikolajczyk continued to hold to the
policy of Sikorski in foreign affairs, hoping to reach an understanding with Stalin,
which would allow his government to assume power to Poland, with the help of the
Polish resistance movement, at the end of hostilies."
"Mikolajczyk believed that he must seek to establish cordial relations with Moscow
and abandon the ‘demagogy of intransigence.’ considering that the calculations in
some Polish circles, based on a possible conflict between the Western Powers and
Soviet Union were ‘illusory and dangerous.’ He was aware that the Western Powers
were not prepared to fight for the Polish eastern forntiers and that in the event of
a crisis they would not support Poland. He hoped nevertheless that, in the event of a Russo-Polish understanding, Britian and the USA would be ready to guarantee Poland’s independance. There was an element of exaggeration in his thinking, which made light
of the difficulties of conciliating the USSR and inducing the Western Powers to take Poland’s side. "
"Sosnkowski on his part was convinced that the government must defend the territ-
orial and political integrity of Poland ‘in spite of all and against all.’ He was opposed
to making concessions because, in his opinion, they would merely lead to the gradual ‘Sovietisation of Poland.’ He was convinced that the Western Powers sooner or later
‘might be compelled to face a showdown with Russian imperialism,’ for which reason there was no need to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards Moscow. He maintained
that the London Poles could influence neither Soviet policy nor the outcome of
military operations and were therefore left with no alternative except to defend their rights and ‘demand the same from the Western Powers.’ He wished to turn the Polish
Question into a ‘problem for the conscience of the voter,’ a test case for the future
of European nations. As Commander-in-Chief he belived that he was entitles to play
an important role in politics. His relations with Mikolajczyk were strained and
"In October 1943 the government issued the resistance with new directives to guide
its activities during the approaching German defeat. The government stated that it
might at some future date order the resistance to stage ‘an insurrection’ against the Germans, or alternatively to promote an ‘intensified sabotage diversion’ operation according to the strategic and political situation. The aim of the rising was to free
Poland from the Germans and assume political power on behalf of the government,
of which an important condition would be Anglo-American help. The government,
however, was in a quandary because it was unable to inform the resistance what form,
if any, such support would take.’
"From 1941 onwards the British were air-supplying the Polish resistance movement
with highly-trained personnel, money, arms and equipment for its intelligence, sabo-
tage and diversionary activities. The British authorities refused, however, to provide
the Home Army with weapons and equipment for its plannewed ‘insurrection.’ The responsibilities for launching such an insurrection was left by the British Cabinet in
the hands of the Polish government. On 5 October 1943 Anthony Eden, the British
Foreign Secretary, told the British War Cabinet that the question of supplying the
Home Army with arms was difficult and such an action, undertaken without consult-
ations with the Russians, might antagonise them. In fact, from 1941 to 1945 the
Home Army received only some 600 tons of supplies from Anglo-American sources"
"In accordance with the government’s instructions the policy to be adopted towards
the advancing Soviet forces was complicated. The directives laid down the principle
that, if Soviet-Polish relations were still not restored at the time of the Soviet entry
into Poland, the Home Army should act only behind the German lines and remain underground in the areas under Soviet control until further orders from the under-
ground. The decision to conceal the Home Army was a dangerous proposition because,
in all probability, it would have led to an open clash with the Soviet security forces
with tragic consequences. The instruction contained a contradiction of which its
authors appeared unaware. The ‘intensified sabotage-diversion’ was intended to be a political demonstration, but if the Soviet Union entered Poland, it would have to be carried out as a clandestine action, with units, which had been involved in fighting the Germans going underground again. The government was demanding that the Home
Army first perform an active role and then disapear, a course which invited the host-
ility of both the German and soviet forces."
"General Bor Komorowski, C-in-C of the Home Army, received these unrealistic
orders with dissatisfaction and decided to ignore them. He ordered his men engaged
in action with the Germans to reveal themselves to the Soviet forces and ‘manisfest
the existence of Poland.’ He believed that otherwise all the Home Army operations against the Germans would be credited to the communists."
" The Home Army was to stage either ‘general and simultaneous insurrection’ or
‘an intensified diversionary operation,’ which received the code name of ‘Tempest’ (‘Burza’). The state of the German forces was to determine which of these altern-
atives was to be adopted. The insurrection was to be undertaken at the moment of German collapse, whereas ‘Tempest’ was to be launched during a German general
retreat from Poland. ‘Tempest’ was to begin in the east and move westwards as
military operations moved into Poland. The essence of the ‘Tempest’ plan was
a number of consecutive uprisings beginning in all areas simultaneously. No oper-
ations were to be taken against the Soviet forces or the Polish army raised in the
USSR. The Home Army was to conduct its operations independently of the Red
Army in view of the suspension of diplomatic relations. The success of ‘Tempest’ depended above all on timing. Premature engagement with the German forces
unassisted by the red Army could turn Polish attacks into disaster. The Home
Army had to wait for the last hours of the German retreat."
" ‘Tempest’ was a simple plan fraught with hazards and dangers in execution. Its
chances of success would have been greater if it could have been co-coordinated
with Soviet military operations but, in the nature of the situation, this was not
possible. Initially large towns were excluded from the ‘Tempest’ in order to spare
their populations suffering and loss of property but, in July 1944, Bor-Komoro-
wski reversed his descision, ordering his men to occupy large towns before the
arrival of the Soviet troops, because he had finally realised that the capture of
towns was essential to the policy of acting as hosts to the Soviet authorities."
"The political intent of Bor-Komorowski’s decision was clear. ‘By giving the
Soviets mininal military help, we are creating political difficulties for them.’ In
February 1944 Bor-Komorowski’s decision to reveal the Home Army to the
Soviet forces was approved by the government. From this moment the die was
cast. The government believed that the Home Army operations would result
either in securing political power for itself in Poland, or the intervention of the
Western powers on its behalf, and would defend the cause of Poland against the
USSR. This view contained a strong element of wishful thinking. "
"Operation ‘Tempest’ began first in February in Volhynia and then was extended
to Wilno (Vilna), Lwow (Lvov) and Lublin areas. During ‘Tempest’ in Volhynia
a certain pattern of events emerged which was soon to reappear in other parts of
Poland; it became apparent to all concerned, Russians, Germans and Poles alike,
that immediately before the arrival of the Red Army into a particular area of the
country, some of the local Home Army units would be mobilised, concentrated
and thrown into battle against the Germans. During the fighting temporary contact
and co-operation with the Russians would be established. Initially relations between
both sides would be cordial and friendly. After the fighting, those of the Home
Army units, which found themselves in Russian-held territory would be disarmed, incorporated into the Berling army, or deported into Russia. As ‘ Tempest’ pro-
ceeded, it became clear that Stalin was not prepared to co-operate militarily and politically with the Home Army."
Jan Ciechanowski, Oxford.
The full Story of Pte.W.J.Mayes during World War11
September 1939 -
The regiment embarks for France as part of the 3rd.Division with the B.E.F
The 23rd.Field Regiment transferred to the 51st. Highland Division to help plug the breakthrough by the German Army through Belgium.
The 51st.Highland Division Surrenders.
June 12th. 1940 - The 51st.Highland Divison surrenders at St.Valery-en-Caux
and begins the long march to Germany from where they were captured at Dunkirk
because the 51st. was actively engaged in keeping the enemy at bay while the
beaches were cleared of the thousands of troops. They spent the remainder
of the war as POW’s after being marched around Berlin in their kilts for three
days, paraded and ridiculed for the benefit of the public - "see the famous 51st. Highlanders wearing skirts."
On the 12th.day of June 1940 the 51st. Highlanders surroundered but first sabotaged all
their weapons by removing the bolts. We marched under a guard of German soldiers, on foot, by tanks and motor cycles. I was fortunate during the march because I found my best mate, Jack Diamon, and so we paired up. We marched from dawn to dusk with many falling by the wayside.
For food the Germans threw a few loaves of bread into the crowd, but many of us were unable to reach any of it. Later they ladled out a thin watery soup but only those who had something to put it into could benefit from the soup.
POW’s a group of the 51st. Highlanders (photo Stan Minnettee of Looe) p.13
Front row, far left- Richard "Dick" Minnet joined the 51st.Highlanders and was captured at Dunkirk because the 51st was actively engaged in keeping the enemy at bay while the beaches were cleared of the thousands of troops who were marooned there. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW., after being marched around Berlin for three days, paraded and ridiculed for the benefit of the public - "see the famous 51st.Highlanders wearing skirts." Dick lost an eye during the war in Burma. He married Ella and had one daughter Patricia. But Richard died young aged only 46 years.
June 20th. 1940
I escape and make my way towards Boulogne.
After eight days of marching with Jack close to my side we decided to escape. We were marching through idyllic countryside with several derelict farms scattered about, but no one could be seen working them, or working in the fields. When we saw a chance we dived into an empty house lying close to the road and waited until the long column passed us by. After resting we made our way travelling only at night, and hiding during the day up towards the coast : scavenging food from empty houses, sometimes stale bread or a few biscuits, and we found a couple of bottles we used to carry water.
We continued like this for a few days until we came to the outskirts of Boulogne where we found a large deserted house, and went up into the attics and removed a few of the roofing tiles on which offered a good view on each side of the house, as well as providing a bolt hole through which to escape should the house be searched.
The following day a squad of German soldiers came into the house but remained on the ground floor talking and laughing. Two days later a French woman came in with some food, she had probably seen us prowling around at night. She said she would try to find us a safe house and in the meantime she would give us food.
One day a Frenchman came and told us the woman was dead, but that he would take us to a safe house in Boulogne. We stayed in this house for some months waiting for a guide to take us to the south of France, and then into Spain. In the meantime we learnt some elementary French. We were given a false identity card and we could go out for exercise. On Sundays we went to Church, not from any religious conviction, (because I was an Anglican not a Roman Catholic) but simply to get out and mix a little with people. We simply stood, knelt and prayed when the congregation stood, knelt and prayed - but how satisfying it was to actually listen to some fine music once more, and to hear the organ.
In May 1941 Jack was the first to take the trip to the south of France. He had his neck bandaged and his guide would explain how Jack had had an accident and so could not talk. I carried on patiently awaiting my turn.
Then early one morning at the beginning of July the alarm bell rang out its urgent call.
It was a pre-arranged signal that the Germans were to raid the house. I jumped out of bed into my trousers in bare feet. I scurried up into the attic and out through a skylight onto the roof where I scrambled up onto the ridge and worked my way down the other side clinging to the guttering by the down pipe. Using my fist I broke a window in the next house and climbed in through. The building was four stories high but panic overrode all fear of personal danger. I went down a corridor and into a bedroom where I found an elderly couple in bed. I explained to them how I was an Englander fleeing from the Germans and asked them where their sky light was. I went through this and scrambled across several more roofs, including the roof of a cinema - in bare feet I realised I had badly cut my hand while breaking that window pane and had blood all over myself and my clothes. Eventually I got down to earth in a small back yard of a little café and knocked urgently upon a door. It was answered by a middle aged woman who took a look at me in my dirty and dishevelled appearance being so smeared with blood that she fainted. A younger woman was standing behind her not knowing what to say, so I quickly explained to her in French that I am English, the Germans are after me, please can you give me a jacket and shoes. She dashed into another room and eventually re-appeared carrying a plain pair of womens shoes and a dark jacket. These I put on and walked out of that door of the café to another part of the town where I knew a British soldier was in hiding. The owner of this house cleaned me up and took us both to another part of the town where we waited until the hue and cry died down. There were four or five British evaders hiding in different houses in Boulogne at that time, and we often met up.
My badly cut left wrist had by now started to heal. After a few days this British soldier, an Irishman, and myself went into the countryside to where another soldier was in hiding on a farm. The farmer gave us some food and sent us on our way with a guide who took us to another safe house where we stayed only for one night. This happened four times, ever moving from one safe house to another, each with a different guide. Eventually we arrived in Lille where we were given false identity cards (I having lost my previous identity card with its photograph at Boulogne when I made my escape). Here we were given money and instructed how to follow a guide at intervals. This we did and consequently boarded a train for Paris. Our group now consisted of a guide, the Irish soldier, a German deserter, a Scotsman, and myself.
Arriving in Paris we left the station and adopted the same procedure of following at intervals until we arrived at a large house where we were all domiciled into one room, where we ate and slept until the following morning. Our guide told us, amidst much laughter, that we were in a Parisienne brothel, explaining that nobody took notice of men coming and going from the building ! The next morning, at the end of July 1941, we boarded a train at the station on the south side of Paris. We had been travelling for about an hour when the door of our ompartment was thrown noisily aside and an officer of the German army entered, accompanied by a squad of soldiers, and said in English that we were under arrest. Someone, or something we had done, had reported us Perhaps it was the Scotsman’s light ginger hair that had given us away !
I asked if we could be escorted to the dining car explaining we had sufficient money and knew that once we were off the train we would be given little food. Surprisingly the officer agreed, and so we made our way forward and bought food and wine. The remainder of the wine we passed back to the other passengers. By this time word had spread that there were Englishmen on the train, and I was hoping this general excitement might give us an opportunity for escape. But we arrived at Bordon to find the station lined with German soldiers and we were quickly bundled into a lorry.
I have no idea where we were taken to. But I found myself in a dungeon with a narrow wooden plank for a bed and a block of wood for a pillow. There was no bedding. An oil drum was provided for use as a toilet which was taken away each day by other prisoners. I did not see the German deserter or the other two soldiers again. After ten days of solitary confinement I was transferred to Fresnes Prison, in Paris.
My cell there was approximately 8-ft by 5-ft. The bed plank measured some 2-inches in width, a block of wood for a pillow, and again no bedding. There was a toilet in the corner with no seat. For breakfast I had a cup of acorn coffee, for luncheon a cup of watery soup, and for the evening meal a slice of bread. It was forbidden to sit or lie on the plank and I had to stand for sixteen to eighteen hours each day. There was a small window bearing a pane of frosted glass high up in one wall. This allowed me to count the days by observing the way shadows fell. Every morning a guard would bang on the cell door and shout in German "Stand up." At night the same thing would happen with a shout of "Sleep." I would pass my time by counting the bricks on one wall and multiplying the sum of my birthday numbers. I would repeat this on all the walls and then calculate it in reverse. There were many equations of the sum of the number of bricks on any one wall. With my finger nail I would scratch a mark signifying the passing of another day.
Even being in solitary confinement I was able to recognise different sounds and some- times connect them with the shadows cast by the small window enough to tell the time. About every ten days a prisoner would be brought into my cell with a chair and he would shave me using a cut throat razor. He was not permitted to talk, but he would give me a wink. After about three weeks I was escorted to Brussels. In this city I found myself once more back in solitary confine- ment. The same kind of cell, bed, window, an oil drum for a toilet which was taken away every two days, no sitting or lying down for eighteen hours, and so I once again began counting bricks.
In Fresnes Prison a guard would look through a spy-hole to make sure I was not sitting down. I found that being subjected to solitary confinement made one’s senses extra keen. My hearing became more acute and I learned to identify the slight click made when the spy-hole was to be opened.
Fresnes Prison (Maison d'arr?de Fresnes) is the largest prison in France, located in
the town of Fresnes, Val-de-Marne near the city of Paris. It comprises a large men's
jail and a smaller one for women.
"Construction of the prison took place between 1895 and 1898 based on the design
of architect, Henri Poussin. Using what would later be referred to as a "telephone-
pole design," the facility represented a radical concept for prison layouts. At Fres-
nes prison, for the first time cell houses extended crosswise from a central corridor, bisecting the housing units at right angles, while connecting all the cell houses and
other facilities. The design, a typical example of which would be the Riker's Island
prison in New York City, would be used extensively in North America for almost
"During World War II, Fresnes prison was used by the Germans to house captured
British SOE agents and members of the French Resistance. Held in horrific cond-
itions in dark holes, these prisoners were tortured and some such as Berty Albrecht
(1893-1943), co-founder of the Combat movement, were executed. As soon as the
Allied forces broke through at Normandy and fought their way to free Paris, the
Gestapo killed prisoners at Fresnes such as Suzanne Spaak, who was executed there
on August 12, 1944, just weeks before the city was liberated."
Famous inmates and escapes
"Like any major prison, Fresnes has had its share of notorious inmates. Paul Touvier
would die at Fresnes prison hospital during his incarceration for war crimes and auto- mobile industrialist, Louis Renault, arrested for collaborating with the Nazis, died
there in 1944 under what some call questionable circumstances."
Was not Odette Churchill internned at Fresnes ?
"Throughout Fresnes prison's history, there have been several escapes but none more dramatic than the March 2003 breakout of Italian mobster, Antonio Ferrara in a commando style raid by members of his gang. In scenes right out of a Hollywood
movie, in a successful fifteen minute assault, gangsters used rocket launchers to blow
holes in the prison's walls, splattered guard posts with machine gun fire, and set cars
on fire as a distraction."
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia © 2001-2006
After about one week I was taken by car to the main Gastapo HQ for that area. There I was hit over the head with a rifle and kicked repeatedly on my legs after failing to answer questions about what was I doing in France. They would not believe me when I told them I was an escaped POW. I repeatedly gave them my name, rank, and number, but to no avail. My legs was by now in a very bad condition, being kicked and hit so many times by a cosh combined with having to stand for eighteen hours daily. But I found some relief by leaning against the wall. But after a visit to the Gastapo there was some little respite.
During my time in Brussels a Belgium prisoner would be placed into my cell during the afternoon. He was always handcuffed and very early the next morning he would be taken out and shot. I talked to these young men who would be very distressed, crying, so helpless. This occured every few days for the remainder of the three months I was there. On one of my visits to the Gastapo I was placed against a wall while three German soldiers took up firing positions facing me. I closed my eyes being numb with fear, then I stood staring, yet seeing nothing, devoid of all emotions. I heard the order to load arms, the clicking of the bolts, and the order to fire. Nothing happened. I just stared at the officer in charge who said that the next time it would be for real if I did not tell them what I was really doing in France.
My legs and nervous system were in rather a bad state. With young Belgian men sentenced to death and having to spent their last night on God’s earth handcuffed in my cell every few days was having a serious effect on me. One morning I was given a double ration of food. The guard told me it was Christmas Day 1941.
My thoughts were then of home and my family, and wondered if I would ever see them again. But the Christmas spirit had been very short lived for the Germans because two days after
it was a return to having sentenced young Belgian men in my cell for a few hours before being shot. These men had mixed with or conspired with saboteurs. There was nothing I could say to help them except to listen to them talk about their families. Again, I was taken back to the Gastapo HQ., and then placed in front of a firing squad. I was once more numb with fear and froze being unable to move. Then a soldier hit me in the stomach with a rifle butt and I had to be dragged back to the car to be returned to the prison camp and my cell.
A few days passed and I was taken out of prison and transported to a camp surrounded by high barbed wire fences. There were a number of huts each had two-tier beds with wooden slats and a straw mattress. Pure luxury. I talked with other prisoners who told me the camp was for unwanted and awkward prisoners, and we told each other our own stories only to find I was the only Englishman in the camp. The inmates consisted of every nationality known. Although everyone looked very thin, except for the Russians who were separated from the other prisoners, and they were living skeletons. They were so weak that should any stumble and fall they stayed where they fell and died. Every few daylight hours a rectangular box, a bit bigger than a coffin, would be carried out of the compound and taken over a pit about one hundred yards away. The hinged bottom would drop and some three or four naked skeletons would fall into the lime pit. Our food was a cup of the usual acorn coffee in the morning, a cup of mangel soup mid day with a slice of bread for tea. This was all we had. With so little to eat we could offer none to the poor Russian soldiers.
After a few weeks of this I asked if there were any escape plans in operation. I was put in
touch with a party who were digging a tunnel from one of the huts. I contacted these men and asked to join. It seemed that being English had its advantages because they were pleased for me to dig. My legs were very bad but I could manage to crawl into the tunnel and do some digging.
One day when I was tunneling my partner shouted "Get out" there is a roll call. I quickly scram- bled out and brushed myself down and took my place in the lines. One of the guards noticed the dirt on my clothes and he immediately started a search for the tunnel, and it soon was discovered. I was taken to the Kommandant’s Office where I found him sitting in his large chair which looked out of place in his office. Sitting next to him was was a young lady who looked like his mistress. He spoke to me in perfect English, and seemed to be showing off in front of his girl. I told him I was English, a British soldier, and again, gave him my name, rank, and number. I then told him I wished to go to a POW camp where British soldiers mainly were interned. I made no mention of the atrocities that were happening in the camp. He said he would see what could be done ; and I was dismissed. So much for that I mused believing he was only showing off in front of his lovely mistress.
A few days later I was under escort by an elderly German soldier to Berlin. My escort gave me some of his German sausage and bread. On arriving in the capital my elderly escort marched me through the streets to another station. We certainly looked a motley pair, he looking rather unkempt while I limped along behind him with long hair and dirty clothes.
Sometimes my escort would stop and shout while holding out his hands in my direction "this is a Englander." When we finally finished the second train journey we got into a lorry which took us to a small POW camp, over thew main gate was STALAG V111 B. I had at last
1/05/2005 03:39:02RE: Lamsdorf Reunited
The change of the designation V111B has tricked many family researchers,
including myself. V111B (Lamsdorf) became 344 towards the end of 1943. It
was an extremely large camp & was set up in 1939 using existing WW1 camp constructions. Initially it was a transit camp which then became permanent.
Early in 1943, V111B (Britenlager) included 318/V111F Lamsdorf (200,000
Soviet POWs of whom around 40,000 died) & V111D Teschen, making it one
of the largest POW complexes. Because of the large influx of POWs after the
Normandy landings, the complex was reorganised & separated as 344 Lamsdorf
& V111B Teschen. Teschen (now Cieszyn) is about 120km S from Lamsdorf
(now Lambinowice) in Poland. By February 1944 V111B Teschen was the
administrative base for many of the Silesian Arbeitskommandos (Work Camps),
mainly mining, including 53 which contained 11,500 British POWs. (The
designation 'British' also applied to all subjects of the British Empire, e.g
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) Most of these work camps were
many kilometres from the main camp & the POWs lived, as well as worked,
there. (Some in deplorable conditions) From the middle of January 1945, the
POWs in the work camps were force-marched through Czechoslovakia away
from the Russian advance. The last group left the main camp at V111B
Teschen on about 20th Jan 1945.
I was taken into the guardroom where I was given a hair cut, a change of clothes which included an English battle dress. My photo was taken and I was given a neck tag bearing my POW number. After a meal, still in the guard room, I was taken to a hut and allocated a bunk bed with hard wooden slats, a straw palliase, and a blanket. This was luxury to me. Outside men were playing football and cricket while others sat watching them or talking, or simply strolling about. The food was quite good and I had potatoes for the first time in many months, and they were boiled in their skins, but we also received RX (Red Cross) parcels sent from Canada which consisted of cigarettes, chocolate, sardines, butter, biscuits and other goodies. We would receive such a parcel once a month. I was also allowed to sent one letter monthly. I first wrote to my mother and let her know I was alright. Then I wrote to Jack Diamons father. I knew his address because I had stayed with him before the war.
Escape from the Stalag would be difficult because the huts were a long way from the perimeter wire. However, I noticed men going out in work parties, they would go to the factories
and workshops and be fetched back at night : although most were billeted out.
I began to save some items from my Red Cross parcels, e.g., toilet soap for bartering. Chocolate and biscuits I ground into crumbs, this with a cup of water would keep me going for a long while. My next job was to get myself in with a work party detail. This was quite easy and so with a number of other prisoners was taken to a factory. After the first days work making boxes I hid in the factory on the first night and waited for things to go quite.
I made my escape during the month of June in the early hours at dawn. I had no idea where I was, or where I was going. The main desire was to get as far away as possible by daybreak.
I took my bag of crumbs and a metal tin for drinking water from a stream. I walked by night and rested during the day. I managed to find and dig up a few potatoes but these were difficult to eat without any means of lighting, or risking lighting a fire. But my legs were my main difficulty, I had to rest frequently for considerable periods. Then after some ten days I was walking along in the pouring rain with my head bowed when I walked into a German sentry guarding an airfield.
He took me to the officers mess where they gave me a meal and chatted to me in English while waiting for someone to collect me. Eventually a German policeman turned up, and he kicked me all the way to his police post. Shortly after a lorry turned up which took me back to the POW camp. Here I was placed in front of the Kommandant and given ten days solitary confinement with bread and water. It was then during those awful ten days that I realised that I was not physicially fit enough to attempt another escape before the next spring. This gave me sufficient time to prepare and try to find someone suitable to accompany me on my next attempt.
The following April I was labouring with a work party loading one-cwt. bags of cement onto barges It was here that I met Peter Heiden who was to become my partner in my next escape. He was about six years older than me, but because of my previous escape experiences he relied on me to do the planning.
One day we were all bundled into lorries and taken to what appeared on the outside to be a small castle. On arrival we were checked in and discovered other POW’s already there. I learned we were to work down a coal mine and that every day lorries would ferry us to the mine. I did not like the sound of this and began asking around if there were any escape plan in operation. One was being carried out and both Peter and myself were invited to join them provided we helped with the escape plans. We discovered that the escape party had already dug a hole in and out of the building and were now ready to make their break. One person would play a trumpet while a number of the others would sing. This jolly and rowdy get together was merely to muffle the noise of a hammer hitting a steel chisel, even with a piece of cloth held over the head of the chisel. On our first night of joining in with the escape party the hole was completed and thirteen of us squirmed through this hole and made our way to the outside perimeter barbed wire fence which stood about ten feet in height. Throwing a blanket across it we climbed over, one by one,
and quietly dropped to the ground outside.
Peter and I went off together leaving the others to carry out their own plans. (In 1945
when sailing from Odessa, Russia, I learned that the others were all caught within twenty-four hours.) We had planned to get away as far as possible and then make for a railway line. On our second day of freedom from camp duties and regulations we came across one. So we followed its course for several miles until we came to an incline which we knew would slow a train a great deal.
It wasn’t very long before a long goods train came along and climbing the incline slowed it considerably. By the time it cleared the top we had climbed aboard an open truck carrying wood. We lay back and smiled at each other and relaxed. We tried to decide when it was best to get off the train before she pulled into a station. So we climbed down over the back of the truck and stood on the buffers, as the train slowed a little we jumped, hitting the bank which threw us over and over until we came to the bottom. We found ourselves alongside of a forest which we entered, not knowing were we were.
After walking for a couple of miles we came to a clearing where we sat down and had a piece of clocolate while waiting for dawn. As soon as it was daylight we went on until we came to open ground. In front of us was a field and what appeared to be many workers kneeling on the ground either weeding or picking up stones. They looked like forced labour gangs.
I told Peter to remain in the ditch while I crawed towards the nearest worker who I discovered to be a woman. She continued to bend down when I approached; I told her I was English in both French and in German. Eventually I discovered we were in Poland, and the woman using the same hand signals made me understand that I was to hide in the ditch until all work was finished that day. After many hours the woman beckoned to us to follow her and we eventually arrived at a small wooden house where she lived. She then told us she was Polish and gave us something to eat called "Salwraka" a kind of a soup made with sour milk, potatoes, and bits of fried onion on top. She seemed excited to have two Englishmen in her house, and by using the same hand signals and gestures wanted to bring her man friend to see us, and he would help us on our way. When she went out we peeped through the door to watch where she was going. After a few minutes she returned with her friend. He could speak a little English and told us we could spend one night with them but then he would take us to a safe place. Before we left we gave the woman a bar of toilet soap, something she had not seen for years.
We were taken back to the forest for a few miles to a small opening where a number of men were sitting. We thanked our guide for his help and gave him a bar of chocolate which made him happy. The men in the clearing were also hiding from the Germans. Their weapons being rather basic, consisted mainly of shotguns. After some discusions with these men, mainly in English, they advised us to go further into Poland. As they were Jewish they were condemmed men, and so feared someone would betray them. They gave us some civilian clothes and a guide took us at night to a railway goods station and passed us onto a railway worker who put us into a brake van. He told us not to talk, not to show ourselves, even if the train stopped. They would come to us when the time was right. We travelled through that night and arrived at a town called Chestwhover ? Here our guide led us to a house in the town where we had more Salwraka to eat.
We told them that our greatest wish was to get back to England. But they went off to try to arrange an escape route for us.
After a couple of days word came back to us that the only escape route was reserved strictly for RAF pilots. We were given the choice of hiding in a safe house for the duration of the war or joining up with the partisans, a group which carried out acts of sabotage against the German cause. We were however told that should we be caught we would be shot. Without hesitation we said we would join the group and together help them in their cause.
After a further couple of days we were taken to the outskirts of a town where we were handed over to another man with a horse and carriage, who told us to get in. We set off at a fast trot for some miles into the forest, to eventually arrive at a large chateau where we were made welcome and given our own room. After having a good wash we descended the large staircase of the chateau and sat down to an evening meal where we were treated like royalty. The large table
served eight people sitting around it with a butler standing to one side and a waitress served the food and wine. The people were Polish aristocrats who owned the village and a large area of land and forest. Because of this no one would dare denounce us, knowing retribution would be final.
We spent a day or two resting and so got to know those in our group, explore the house, and get to know the lie of the land The first move was to climb aboard the horse and carriage, and after a few miles we arrived at what appeared to be a barn. Here we met some partisans and their leader, who decided that before we could take an active part in their activities we would be taught to speak some basic Polish. So once again we were taken on a journey to a town called Piotkow where we were separated and taken to different houses.
For two weeks an English speaking lady visited me and taught me to speak a little Polish.
After this I again met up with Peter and together we joined a group of partisans who gave us each a uniform jacket with a small Union Jack sewed onto the top of the lapels. We were treated as someone special.
Our weapons and ammuniction were mainly German, taken from those soldiers we shot.
Our grenades were British. The first foray we went out on nearly ended in disaster for me. I carried a rifle and ammunition as well as one grenade. The leader explained to me that the group, amounting to some twenty men, were to enter a village that night to flush out a traitor. Most of the houses at that time were made of wood, usually one or two rooms with a door and two windows always facing south, because of the extremely cold winds that blew from Russia. I was paired with a partisan who was to keep his eye on me. By now it was quite dark and I had been in the village for about twenty minutes when a convoy of vehicles sped towards the village. We quickly dispersed and I became separated from my companion. I did not know what to do and there was a lot of small arms fire. Keeping to the rear of the houses I made my way to the edge of the village nearby some trees where I crouched down wondering what to do. Germans were everywhere. I decided to get away by following a sandy track through the trees, after again looking back at the village and seeing all the lights from the German’s vehicles I decided it was the best thing to do.
After a few miles of following this track it began to get daylight. It was then that I decided to take off my jacket and to hide it together with my arms. Although I had no idea where
I was going I tried to memorise the hiding place. After a further mile a man holding a revolver told me to stop and put up my hands. I guessed he must be a partisan from another group. I told him I was English, but he did not believe me or anything I said believing me to be a German. He made me walk to a cluster of houses not far away where he herded me into a chicken house and placed a guard outside.
Then another came and asked me to prove who I was and if I could not do that I would be shot. Luckily I remebered the address of the house in Pietrkow where I stayed learning Polish. I gave him this address and roughly explained where I had hidden my jacket and arms. Some hours later a messenger came back with my things and this confirmed that I was an Englishman. With some excitement I was given food and told they would return me to my own group as soon as they could be located. Two more days went by before I was taken to rejoin my group.
They believed I was either captured or dead. Apparently among the mayhem that night there had been much gunfire but the partisans received only slight wounds. Peter claimed I had been very lucky.
Among the acts of sabotage we carried out during the following months was blowing up a railway line carrying troops. This was more daring than some of our other acts. But the more trouble we caused the more troops would be used to search for us. That meant less men serving on the front. So the work of the partisans was vital, they proved to be the proverbial thorn in the Nazi flesh. After the destruction of the line we saw the derailed engine together with the first carriage. Now the line would be blocked for some time.
As usual we travelled through the forest for some twenty miles, and I would be allowed to sit on the cart carrying the rations and spare ammunition, because my legs were far from being
well. We would set up camp and post a couple of guards. For a bed we would cut off the lower branches from fir trees, using a few more to cover us over. The Polish forest stretched for many miles and consisted mainly of fir trees. For food the partisans would go to a farm and request a pig or a sheep and give the farmer a receipt saying the farmer would be remembered, or reimbursed, at the end of the war. Other food stuff such as butter, flour etc. were taken from the factories producing food for the German army.
Being English Peter and I were exempt from doing guard duties. Winter was closing in and temperatures were dropping. They built a fire always using wood that did not give off much smoke. One day we mustered with other groups to attack a Police Post, such posts were usually manned by the SS and other special troops considered to special to be worked on the front line.
A convoy of about forty horse drawn carts galloped along a cobbled road towards the Police Post : the noise was terrific. There were partisans on the ground surrounding this Post, and the Germans must have wondered what was coming at them. This action was soon over and the Police Post burnt to the ground. Our group as usual, withdrew about twenty miles back into the forest.
Our next act of sabotage was planned to be big. Just before Christmas 1943 we were told we were to be part of a big battle code-named "Summer Storm." Once again our part was to attack a Police Post. It was at night when we arrived near the Police Post. Peter, with some partisans went to the front of the Post while I with others went around the back. There was soon a lot of gun fire and someone told me that Peter was wounded. I went around to the front of the Post and looked through the front door. Peter was lying at the foot of some stairs in a pool of blood. While someone covered me with gun fire I with another man dashed inside and pulled Peter outside. There we discovered he had been shot through the thigh by a machine pistol. We took him to an adjacant house where I had his wound dressed. He was unconsious and in a bad way through loss of blood, so our leader told me to place him on a waggon and have him made comfortable and then to proceed back the way we had come. After about three miles I realised Peter Hieden was dead.
I asked the partisan who was with me to go to the nearest house and ask for a pick and shovel. He returned quickly with some of the men who some time before had locked me in the chicken house. They set to work quickly, the ground was very hard and they had to use the pick a lot. When the grave was sufficiently deep we placed Peter gently in his grave. My friends then completed the burial while I, together with my partisan companion, returned with the horse and cart to the track through the woods to wait for the remainder of our group. There were some wounded among them which were dispersed to the nearest safe houses to recover. We left the horse and cart with the wounded and proceeded on foot.
By this time the Germans were hot on our trail. The ground being thick with snow made our tracks easy to follow. But we came to a frozen river which we quickly crossed because by now the enemy were so close on our heels they could begin firing at us. Having crossed that river we again entered a forest and then noticed the Germans were apprehensive about crossing the ice, so we made our getaway without fear or haste and hid up for the night in an underground dugout.
It was here I was told that the Police Post had been destroyed.
After a couple of days of hiding a partisan asked me if I would like to go home with him and spent Christmas Day with his family. I was pleased to accept and we made our way to his home on the outskirts of Piotkow where his mother made me very welcome, and we had a nice day. By this time a lot of people had learned that Peter Hieden, the other Englishman, had been killed. There were a lot of partisans who were killed or died from their wounds we having no doctors or hospital facilities. Wounds had to be dealt with by ourselves as best as we could, but most body wounds proved fatal. I had a growth form in the corner of my right eye. A student doctor said he would have a go at cutting it out with a razor blade. I sat on a stool while everyone looked on as he cut the growth away. After he finished there were cheers from the onlookers.
Piotrkow, one of Polands oldest cities, is in central Poland about 16 miles S of Lodz. In October 1939 the city was occupied mainly because of its high Jewish population, and so a ghetto was established during the same year, the first in Nazi occupied Poland, from where some 22,000 Jews were mainly deported to the death camp at Treblinka. Many were taken to work as slave labourers, as well as helping to make munitions. The conditions were brutal. If you were caughtstealing a potato you were shot on the spot.
I was now the only Englishman in the area and had become well known. Now in the depth of winter it was very very cold with temperatures dropping to 30 below zero in the open. But in the forest, sheltered from the icy winds, it was less cold.
Girl couriers were used to ferry messages from the head man in the area to different groups. Our head man’s code name was "May." I never met him but of course he knew all about me. These girls were very brave because they knew that should they be caught they would be shot by the Gastapo. Many such women were shot in Fresnes Prison
A gang of German soldiers had been terrorising some of the villagers, raping and shooting people. We were told to find them and put them out of action. After a few days word came telling us where they were. The result of this was a shoot out which lasted for a couple of hours. The Germans were all killed, while we had a couple of wounded. The Poles then stripped the dead of their outer clothing and footwear. The bodies were laid out on the snow arranged in the form of a swastika. They knew this act would make the German authorities so angry which would take more troops away from other duties to search for us.They could not afford to do this because they were suffering such high losses fighting the Russians.
Another time I took a group of partisans to a German village where we broke all the windows and destroyed their food supplies. This was in retaliation for what the Germans had done to two Polish villages. I shouted at them, telling them I was English and said I would continue to retaliate every time their troops ran amock. A few days later a girl courier, code named "Helena" cycled to our group with a message from "May" informing us that there was an assassination squad looking for me. I was fortunate in having plenty of local people keeping a look out for me.
Towards the summer I dressed as a Captain in the German Army Police, and with two partisans dressed as military policemen we made a road block to stop the few cars that were on the roads. German civilians or the military were the only one’s using cars. By using a red and white circle on a short stick I stopped the first car in which were four German civilians. We ordered them outside, took them into the wood and after taking their clothes let them loose in their underclothing. The car, under the guard of one partisan, was hidden in a copse opposite. The next vehicle was a German supply lorry and we did the same thing. Another car came along again carrying German personnel, which we also stopped. I was then going to call it a day as I did not wish to push my luck too far when another car came along, slowed down at my signal, and then shot away at speed. I jumped into one of the cars we had captured and gave chase. My driver put his foot down and as soon as we came within machine pistol range I opened fire causing the car we were chasing to overturn into a ditch. We immediately turned round and returned to the road block. We removed all the outer clothing and footwear from the Germans and throwing it into the back of the commandeered lorry, we sabotaged one of the cars, and drove the other car and the lorry to a small village I knew called Aleksandrow, (a village near Piotrkow, its name is now Trybunalski)). When I arrived I noticed the village was very quiet. I saw a young girl I knew and took off my hat to her. She recognised me and said "Oh, its you Ozim." I asked where the men were, and she replied they had run off on seeing Germans approaching the village. I shared out the contents from the lorry which was carrying farm impliments - and a large cheese, together with all the clothing and footwear we had taken from the Germans. In those days the village only had four or five wooden dwellings and the street was cobbled, as were most of the other streets. Its river was crossed by a wooden bridge.
I then told them to take the lorry and car some miles away and ditch them. I stayed in the village that night, it was good to share a few hours of semi relaxation with a friend. The next morning lines of German soldiers were seen approaching the village. I went at once to my pre-arranged hiding place which was beneath part of an earth lavatory.
Jim Mayes own drawing of his hiding place
I laid there for two days until I was given the all clear. At one time a German soldier used the lavatory; I could tell by his clumping leather boots on the trap door.
Another time a partisan named "Camel," and myself, wanted to cross the border into Germany. "Camel" took me to a house near the frontier where he had arranged for a guide to take us over the border. This guide took us to a small wooden house and told us to wait until he came back. He was going to see if the way was clear. It was past midnight when we heard German voices shouting "Come out with your hands up." Outside the door was a squad of four or five German soldiers, we believed our traitorous guide must have told the enemy that we were only a small group and would give little trouble. I pulled the pin out of my grenade and slowly removed the lever at the same time easing open the small window. I dropped the grenade out and almost instantly it exploded. We opened what was left of the door and ran like hell : but behind us all was quiet. We continued to run for some distance, then slowed to a walk which took as into a cemetery, because "Camel" knew the stone-mason who worked there. He took us to a place partly concealed by undergrowth and after brushing aside a pile of leaves and dead branches revealed a concrete slab which he slid aside. Inside was a hole with a ladder for access, some water, and a drum for a toilet. We both climbed down and the slab was replaced. No doubt our compatriot made good the ground before he went back to his workshop.
All partisans had code-names, so should one be caught he could not relay the real names of his compatriots because he simply did not know it. The Polish partisans used the names of animals for their code names - hence "Camel."
We stayed there for two days and three nights. When the stone mason returned and gave us the all clear, it was such a relief to emerge into the soft light of dusk after being in total darkness for so long.
I was constantly receiving warning messages when my assassination squad was getting near
enabling me and my partisan friends to move on. Our favourite place was in the forest, where the Germans were wary of entering such unknown territory, as many of the partisans worked within the forestry industry. On one mission of sabotage we set out to engage in, after walking for several miles during the night, we rested in a foresters house prior to continuing our journey. We had posted two sentries, and after an hour or so one rushed in and warned us the Germans were almost on us. I jumped out of the window and together with some of the other men who had their boots on. (I had learnt from experience to always keep my boots on in readiness to either fight or run). Some of our group who had taken off their boots were slow getting out of the house. By this time the Germans were firing at the door of the forest house wounding some of our men who then managed to find temporary shelter in an adjoining barn while they waited for a chance to escape from it. With bullets flying about one of them had a bullet cut him across his stomach. But some of us made good our escape and by the time we stopped for our next rest our chief took a look at our friends wound and found his intestines were protuding through the cut. Our chief washed his hands in "Bimbo" a form of home-made vodka, and then tried to push the intestines back as much as he could and strapped a bandage tightly around the stomach. After a few more miles our injured companion said he could go no further, so we left him in a house we were passing where he was put to bed, while we continued on our mission.
Later we learnt that the Germans had burned down the barn with our men in it. We further learned that our wounded companion had shot himself rather than risking reprisals to the occupants of the house. I have always retained a very close and dear affection for those partisans I was fortunate to meet, be accepted by, and work with; they were a breed of the finest people I had ever encountered. They would never give in to the enemy who had occupied their country, but offered every form of resistance and retaliation they possibly could administer with unfailing regularity. Their strength of purpose and character was incredible, being one of our greatest allies and a fighting force of outstanding achievement." The Polish army formed from refugees in Tehran fought heroically on
the Italian front (including the final victory at Monte Cassino where the British,
New Zealanders, French, Americans, Indians and South Africans had failed). But,
by cruel irony, its members political destiny was also sealed in Tehran, in 1943.
In November that year, the leaders of Russia, Britian and the U.S. met in
the Iranian capital to decide the fate of post-war Europe. During their discussions
(held in secret), it was decided to assign Poland after the war to the zone of influ-
ence of the Soviet Union - the nation that had treated it so badly in 1939.
It would lose both its independance and its territorial integrity. The east-
ern front of the country, from which the exiles to Iran had been originally expelled, would be incorpoated wholesale into the Soviet Union.
The Polish government was not informed of the decision until years later,
and felt understandably betrayed.
Forty-eight thousand Polish soldiers lost their lives fighting for the freedom
of the very nations whose governments had secretly betrayed them in Tehran, and
later (in 1945) in Yalta."
Katrin Williams, London E4., Daily Mail, July ‘06.
After we accomplished our mission we retreated by our usual manner, on foot, walking many miles through the forest. I was still encouraged to ride on the cart when my legs became unbearable.
Once again we entered a foresters wooden house and there met Helena who told us about what had happened to our compatriots during our last engagement. What pleasure it was to sit by
the warmth of a fire, have some food - with several drinks of ‘bimbo’ to talk and laugh the night away. Most of our laughter would be over the verbal dynamics and gesticulations used in trying
to communicate with what knowledge I had with their mother tongue.
The next day at daylight we were again warned by our sentry that the Germans were almost on us. This time everyone had their boots on and so dashed away across the fields in the opposite direction to the firing. I tried to pursuade Helena to come with us, I feared for her safety by leaving her ; she said she would be alright, she had her idendity card, and there were children in the house and so would claim she was helping to look after them. As we raced away I heard bullets coming our way. I would then throw myself to the ground as if I had been shot. This deception meant that the rifleman would aim at another of the fleeing partisans, allowing me time to race on once more. Having carried out this manoeuvre a few times I managed to reach a few trees which offered me some protection and then we were in the forest itself.
I was now in safe territory, the forest of conifers whose very branches curving low to the ground seemed to welcome me back once again. I soon met up with all the rest of our group and we slowly made the long trek back to our base.
It was soon after this operation that a friend came to me in rather a distressed state of mind claiming the local padre would not baptise his baby son due to his role in being a partisan. I, and other family members, went with him to the church some three miles away. This occasion was highlighted by my threatening to shoot the padre if he refused to carry out the baptism. As I already have written in this story, I signed the registry book in English.
I continued fighting with the underground movement mainly undertaking acts of sabotage, destroying railway lines being our favourite act. Towards the middle of July 1944 I could hear artillery fire away in the distance from the German / Russian front.
Our courier, Helena, delivered a message which said we were to stand by to go to Warsaw, where the Russians had reached the outskirts of that city, and it was assumed they would help in any uprising in the city. Seemingly every man, woman and child crowded out into the streets with an assortment of weapons to fight for the freedom of their country. But the Russians did nothing to help. They remained on the outskirts of Warsaw and watched the Germans destroy Warsaw using heavy artillery fire. Many Poles lost their lives in the uprising; that last act to free themselves from enemy dominance : and the Russians watched the massacre. I then realised just how much the Russian Red Army hated the Polish people.January 1945
I saw my first Russian soldiers as the Germans were retreating as fast as they possibly could. The Russian troops were well equipped for winter ; men and women both looked alike.
their faces resembling old and crinkled leather. But I was very apprehensive of these soldiers and so remained in hiding.
I saw the Russian soldiers killing the fleeing German troops by splitting open their heads with hand axes.
About ten days after the front line soldiers had passed through I was told that a number of British POW’s had been released by the Russians and where now housed in the neighbouring town.
But again, I had no intention of giving myself up to the Russians, instead I asked for a guide to take me to the where the British ex-POW’s were billeted.
Many of the Polish partisans of the Underground Movement said they would continue as before - but this time to turn their effort and fight the Russians. So, together with my guide we set off on foot. It was very very cold and my breath froze as soon as I exhaled. After about four miles we came to a roadway made up by laying out on the snow packed surface some hundreds of dead Germans, arranged with their feet inwards and their heads at the roads edge. The bodies, feet to feet, and heads outside, frozen solid. Russian vehicles trundled along over these bodies, and as they did so we had to move aside, and stand on the heads of the dead. A few more miles and my guide indicated to me that we had better find somewhere to rest for the night, and took me to a house we could see quite nearby. Here the owner said we could sleep on the floor. He then took an axe and went outside where a dead horse was lying with its legs in the air, frozen, as though carved from a stone block. He chipped away at the horses flank until he had sufficient shreds to make into a stew. This meal refreshed and warmed us enough to settle down for the night.
The next morning we set off for the railway station where we caught a train to the town where the British POW’s were living. When we arrived I had no difficulty in finding them as many could be seen about. I introduced myself to some and was eventually told to leave my name, rank and number and told to come back in two days time. I then discovered a house full of refuges where I found a place to sleep after begging some food. By this time my guide had left me. After two days I returned to the POW’s house where I was welcomed, and given a military tunic so that I could mingle unnoticed with the crowd.
After a further two days we were all taken by train to Moscow, where we were shepherded to another train to begin a ten day journey to Odessa. During this journey we were given food by the Russians. The carriages had wooden seats, and for heating there was a combustion stove in the middle, and a lavatory at the end of each carraige. The lavatory consisted of a hole in the floor, with foot imprints to show people how to stand when squatting. Everytime the train stopped there could be seen a row of white bottoms each side of the track. Both men and women were mixed.
Some of these stops would last for a few hours, during which time many POW’s got out to walk about and beg for food as we had only little on the train. The train driver would give a long whistle on the engine and then wait for us all to scramble back aboard. I did manage to take possession of a safety razor which proved to be quite a treat after months of using a ‘cut throat.’
Arriving at Odessa we were taken to a large building to undergo a medical examination. We all had to strip naked and examined by a very large woman doctor. I was infested with lice, crabs and scabies through not being able to wash or change all my clothes. But I was quickly de-loused and my clothes fumigated, after which I was allowed to mix with the other POW’s.
After another two days wait we were marched to the docks where a Russian band played us onto a British ship. Once on board I was told not to talk or to write about what I had seen or done. My greatest treat was white bread which I had not seen for five years. Our first port of call was Port Said where we were allowed off the ship and given facilities to write home. After such a length of time of being unable to write to my family, and having so much to tell, (most of which I had been ordered not to relate), I could find nothing to say : except to wish them well and that I was now on my way home.
We continued our voyage to Naples, but we were unable to leave ship because it was only a short stop, and so we quickly continued homeward, subsequently arriving at Liverpool where we were taken to a holding camp. There I was debriefed and recommended for a medal, which I did not receive, instead I was mentioned in despatches. Again I was told not to write or talk about what I had seen or done. I was given new clothes, a train warrant, and almost five years back pay. Not much for five years after suffering in the hands of the Gastapo, being always on the run, working with the Polish Resistance Movement, and fighting very hard for my country. My pay was 2 / 9d. per day. Having made an allowance of one shilling per day to my parents, left me with only one shilling and nine pence per day for the five years.
William Mayes & Alice née Wilkins, James’s parents, with Mable Mayes, John’s wife.
I arrived home at last. The first thing I noticed was my mothers hair which had turned completely white over the last five years. I had eleven weeks leave and was told that the village policeman and post master in my village of St.Day in Cornwall, where my parents who had a shop in Church Street since 1938, selling general provisions, had been informed by the War Office not to disclose my address or whereabouts to anyone.
What a delight it was to sample English beer again after five years of abstinence. Then it was V.E.Day and a huge country wide celebration to mark victory in Europe. The war was over, but much remained to be done to try to return to a life experienced before the war. Sadly t’was never to be
Then to report Peter Heiden’s death to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, after which I travelled up to Buckinghamshire to visit his father, when we had a long talk together. I frequently remember Peter Heiden and our time together in the Royal Artillery, and as POW’s, then fighting together with the Polish Home Army. Now suffering from the infirmities of old age I can no longer recall anything regarding his life, or where he came from; even though I visisted his father, or rather his parents, I believe his mother was still living. They always sent him a food parcel which contained a box containing 500 expensive "Pall Mall" cigarettes - although any cigarette different from the ubiquitous "Woodbine" seemed expensive to us. Peter had a sister, but Jim has no further details regarding her.
"She told me that for some years afterwards my
name became a legend in the area."
Forty five years later I decided to return to Poland and try to locate Peter Heiden’s grave.
The country was by now free from communists and it was safe to travel there. I landed at Warsaw Airport and made my way to Piotrkow, where eventually I found the city Radio Station where a broadcast message was sent out asking for anyone who knew or remembered me to come forward. Further, I was given an interpreter.
One elderly man came forward and said he was the brother of the father who’s baby had been baptised at gun point. He told me the babies father had died some years ago but he had often related the story about the Englishman, code-named Dzim, who had made the baptism possible.
The baby was now a man aged 50 years who had moved to a different part of the country.
The next person to come forward was an elderly lady who had met me in the hamlet of Aleksandrow when I was dressed as a captain in the German Army Police. We were both excited at meeting each other again after some fifty years, and I asked her about Peter’s grave. She took me to a cemetery where she pointed to a row of graves which, she explained, were the last resting place of partisans killed during the war. The last grave in the row was that of a girl courier who had been shot by the Gastapo. She futher added that some years later the girls parents were shot by the communists. The friends of the partisans had then secretly removed the girls remains and buried her with her parents. They then went to the forest where they exhumed the remains of Peter Heiden and buried him in the girl couriers grave. She then took me to the hut where I first joined the partisans, and where her two brothers had been shot. This was indeed very sad because they were young men.
Yet she had more to show me, and we went and met the sister of a partisan who killed himself when ambushed, rather than be taken prisoner and tortured. She told me that for some years afterwards my name had became a legend in the area.
Our next move was to meet "May" head of the partisans in my sector. I had never met him before, and as he was not well we only managed to have a short talk, but he did show me a book that he had written. Then he pointed to a photograph in the book - it was a photograph of John, my brother, in army uniform. This was strange because he thought it was a photograph of me. I said nothing but wondered how he came to have a photograph of my brother : and one I had never seen myself. He then recalled the christening of the partisan’s baby boy at gun point.
James remembered one occasion just before the Russians arrived that I had been told to hide under a bed with a false bottom, while someone got into the bed and pretended to be ill. At the time I was told that they were a maverick group of partisans, believed to be Communists, but in truth this is what happened, being a rather desperate attempt on my part which finished with me being hidden under the bed.
Yes, a rather desperate attempt on my part to avoid being found by the partisans with which I had fought alongside, because I had broken one of their laws. Steal from the Germans as much as possible, but never steal from any of our own Polish people. If you do the punishment is death. The partisans were free fighters within the very midst of their own people, and as such had to be exemplary, a well organised and very strict movement operating under a rigid code of conduct.
I knew what the rules, and the knew the consequencies should one break any of them.
A few days after I had joined the partisans I had to be present when a young compatriot aged about eighteen years was being questioned by the leader of our group charged with stealing, at gun point, a packet of cigarettes. He was found quilty and sentenced to death. There was no further
ado, the verdict and sentencing had been issued so the young man was taken outside and shot in the back of his head. The leader then explained to me that the sentance was always the same for stealing.
I further recalled that during the summer of 1943 I was again present when a woman was found quilty of stealing. She was taken outside and shot in the same way.
I believed the war to be over. The Russians were rapidly over running Poland and we were starving. We spent most of our time avoiding the Russians. We could buy no food because we were now fighting a double war - the Germans and the Russians. The whole place was in chaos added to which we were in the depth of a bitterly cold winter.
It was Christmas Eve of 1944 and I was staying with a partisan in the house of the mayor of the district, together with the mayors wife and their grandaughter : but we had nothing to eat. The Russians were only a few miles away, ao in desperation myself and the other patisan decided to risk all to get some food.
Out side the temperature was about 30˚ below freezing, with the ground covered in deep snow. We set off in a roundabout way to reach a nearby farm which was about three kilometres away, but we knew there was a flock of sheep kept under cover. When we got there we fired a few shots in the air hoping the occupants of the farm would keep their heads down, and for good measure my partisan friend loudly shouted a few words in Russian while I went to an outbuilding were I could hear sheep bleating. I shot one of them in the head, threw it over my shoulder, and returned to the mayors house using a further roundabout way.
On arrival both the mayor and his wife set about skinning and cleaning the animal, and then disposing of this so that nobody would find it. Within an hour we were all enjoying mutton broth made without vegetables.
A few days later the mayors wife rushed over to me and told me to hide as the partisans were seeking me. It was she who lifted her bed to reveal a false bottom to it concealing a base section of only a foot in depth. I lay on the floor while the bed was positioned over me. She then got into bed and pretended to be too ill to get out.
While I lay in concealment my thoughts kept wandering back to those seperate incidents when the two partisans were shot for similar offences that I myself had committed, and I was being sought to answer for it. Fortunately I wasn’t found, and within two days, to my own salvation, the whole area was flooded with Russians, tanks, and infantry.
It was then that I set off with my quide to join the British POW’s released by the Russians from the detention camps.
My anxiety attacks were recurring more frequently now, so I thanked everybody for what they had done for me, their hospitality, and meeting those who was able to rekindle that spirit of
the past. Also for giving my friend and compatriot Peter Heiden, a Christian burial and resting place. On my return to England I reported the new location of Peter Heiden’s grave to the Commonwealth War Graves Committee (C.W.G.C) who promised to place a memorial plaque on his grave.
In November 1995 the C.W.G.C wrote to James and advised that the Polish authorities, namely the Ministry of Environmental Planning, had written to inform the C.W.G.C that they had sadly, despite extensive research, been unable to locate the actual grave of Gunner Heiden.
The C.W.G.C had to accept the results of their investigation, and James was notified that the C.W.G.C would continue to commemorate his former comrade on the Athens Memorial. The print out of the details of commemoration as recorded in their registers show -
Gunner Peter Charles Heiden, Service No.1431295, Unit / Service 151 Bty.
H.A.A. Regt. Royal Artillery. He was killed on the 22nd. December 1943
aged 26 years.
The Athens Memorial stands within Phaleron War Cemetery, which lies a few kilomettes to the S-E of Athens, at the boundary between old Phaleron district and Kalamaki district, on the coast road from Athens to Vouliaghmen.
Gunner Heiden was the son of Charles and Edith Heiden, of Steeple Claydon, Bucking- hamshire.
At the same time the C.W.G.C further advised James that in recognition of Gunner Heiden’s sacrifice, the Polish Ministry of Environmental Planning had arranged to have a commemorative plaque erected in his memory in Sulejow Cemetery, this being the area in which he fought and died. The C.W.G.C searched through their file on this case and found photographs of the actual commemorative plaque in question, but it would appear the Polish authorities spelt Gunner Heiden’s name incorrestly and gave him the wrong rank. As the plaque was placed by the Polish authorities, the C.W.G.C was not (and is still not) responsible for its maintenance, nor are they responsible for correcting the error. The fact he is commemorated as "Pilot" is simply because anyone being part of an RAF crew who baled out and evaded, or who escaped from a POW camp and contacted a group of the Polish Resistence were given the choice of either living in safe houses, but always on the move; or they could join the movement. But if they were RAF pilots they would be placed with a specialised underground movement and eventually sent back to England to fly again.
General view of the Athens Memorial
detail of memorial at Sulejow Cemetery, Poland, showing the mispelling of
Gunner Heiden’s name and rank. (A general view of the memorial is shown below.)
Commemorative plaque to the memory of Gunner Heiden at Sulejow Cemetery, Poland.
The Polish Ambassador at that time to Great Britian presented me with two medals. One for Operation " Storm" and one for being a Partisan. I have had to repeat myself sometimes in order to follow the sequence of events.
This is a true storyW.J.Mayes.
After the war he returned to England where he was interogated at length. After which he was awarded the oak leaves of being Mentioned in Dispatched (MID - LG209 / 45), then told in strict army military language "to shut his mouth" and disclose nothing of the undercover warfare he experienced with the Polish partisans. He was immediately given leave for six weeks, but he took eleven. He travelled down into the heart of Cornwall where he stayed with his parents who ran their shop at St.Day. There he was able to rest, walk the beautiful countryside with the dog, and recuperate. Slowly regaining his health after the hurt and toil of arduous warfare under extreme conditions, until he put on a little more weight enough for him to continue to serve in the Royal Artillery until the end of January 1948 when his time of service expired. The following month he rejoined the Royal Artillery by signing on for a further twelve years. He remained home based in England for six years where, being a senior NCO was an instructor training soldiers in gunnery and other armaments. But it took three years before he regained his normal weight and full strength.
Then in April 1954 he served for nearly six years with BOAR in Germany; then with the Middle East Land Forces (MELF) in Egypt, as shown by his Regular Army Cerificate of Service. He was discharged in May 1961 as a Warrant Officer 11 having served a total time of twenty four years and 238 days in the armed forces. His place of discharge was at R.A.Records, Foots Cray, Sidcup, Kent.
His testimonial as assessed by the Officer Commanding of the 49 Field Regiment, R.A.,
is as follows :-
"During his appointment as T / RQMS he proved to be first class. He is through, hard- working and perfectly trustworthy in all he does. A good organiser, always cheerful under the most adverse conditions. Keen and confident he gets on well with his superiors."
On a troopship coming home from Egypt in 1955 - W.O.Mayes & senior NCO’s (second left at rear)
Middle East 1954- Senior NCO’s, W/O Mayes (second from left)
Gernaby (1958 -59) - W.O.Mayes (far left) with two NCO Storemen.
Pte. Walter James Mayes during World War Two.
Army Service No.853799 Royal Artillery 23rd.Field Regiment.
(Gunner & dispatch rider)
Received the following Medals
Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.
1939 to 1945 Star.
War Medal 1939 to 1945.
Mentioned in Despatches Authority L.A. 209 / 45.
Armia Krajowa "Akcji Burza" Commemorative Badge of Operation . . . Operation ‘Tempest.’
ODZNAKE Weterana Walk o Niepodleglosc (Vertera Badge of Struggle for Independance). Instituted on June 6th. 1994 by the Council of Combatants
and Prosecuted Individuals.Rzeczpospolita Polska (Polish State Police). Armica Krajowa (Home Army). "Akcji Burza " or AK (Commemorative Badge of Operation . . . to be followed by name of operation). AK func- tioned as the dominant Polish resistance, one of the largest underground resistance movements. It carried out the war’s largest uprising (the Warsaw Rising) which lasted sixty-three days.
Awarded to Walter James Mayes
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